Once I’ve got it properly insulated and powered up, I’m going to build an open, slant-roof storage building for my wood inventory and fence the whole thing in. Again, it probably doesn’t sound like much, but being able to cure and store my own wood—and someday soon, mill it, too—not only makes life a whole lot easier, it also brings me much closer to controlling every aspect of a project, whether it be a piece of custom modern furniture or a kitchen renovation.
A wood kiln is basically a giant dehumidifier. The idea is to get the environment inside nice and arid. A heater kicks the temperature up to 150 degrees for the first few days to kill off any bugs that find their way inside and then holds it steady between 90 and 100 degrees. All the while, that hot, dry air is pulling the moisture out of the wood within. Ideally, after a log’s milled, it’s air-dried for a couple of years and then moved to a kiln for about three weeks to wring out that last bit of moisture, or, as I like to say, crisp it up.
The point of all this is simply to get the wood to a state in which it can be manipulated and hold that form. Wood can be a squirrely material to work with when it’s not kiln-dried. The grain doesn’t run in straight lines, and it’s full of tension. (Those knots are closer to actual knots than you realize.) If you leave a log’s inherent moisture intact, that wood will continue to flex, even after it’s been made into something. Kiln-drying stabilizes the wood without distorting any of its gorgeous natural features.
I started cultivating a wood inventory when I got serious about crafting custom modern furniture. At the moment, I’m sitting on a bit of Douglas fir, some white oak, a stockpile of black walnut, and a Norway maple tree that came down nearby in a storm. It’s the impending arrival of some pine, though, that’s motivating me to get the kiln setup in order. I’d like to kiln-dry it ahead of a farmhouse renovation I’m due to start soon so that I can make my own floorboards. That’s kind of how I see this working, the kiln helping me to supply my own projects. Not too far into the future, I’ll be able to control the sourcing and the treatment of the wood, as well as the end result. I know. It sounds like basic quality control. But I want to Bret Cavanaugh Modern Design to stand for more than top-shelf craftsmanship and an original vision. With any piece of custom modern furniture that comes from my workshop, I want to have the confidence to tell you that you’re buying an heirloom, and that begins well before the first sketch, with the materials.
So, the kiln was my logical next step. I’ve always enjoyed scavenging wood (and just about everything else). I’m good at finding it and even wrestling logs out of hedgerows. But, despite some short-lived attempts to mill it myself, I always handed it off at some point in order to get what I needed. And that was never my ideal. Those closest to me know me as an innovative guy. Probably a little restless, too. I think of myself as a perfectionist. After all these years, it’s also turned me into a control freak. There’s a certain way that I need most things done, my furniture, especially, and it’s hard to always convey that accurately. I can talk quickly and cut off thoughts mid-sentence and double back. I wouldn’t expect you to always follow what I’m saying. But I understand. I know what I’m thinking. The less translating, then, that needs to be done, the better it is for all involved.